On this day in 1502 – Prince Arthur Tudor died

Prince Arthur Tudor died on 2nd April 1502 only five months after his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. The eldest son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, Arthur was the heir to the English throne.

After his lavish wedding to Katherine of Aragon the newlyweds were sent to Ludlow Castle where the Prince of Wales was to learn to be King and also rule over the principality of Wales. After a brief stay at Tickenhall Manor, Bewdley the couple set off for Ludlow.

Ludlow Castle was a luxurious palace but it was also cold. After a particularly bitter winter in late March 1502, both Arthur and Katherine fell ill. It is still a mystery what struck the new royal couple; the most common theory was they were struck by the sweating sickness that had swept the country. Katherine battled through the illness and survived; however, Prince Arthur Tudor succumbed to it and passed away at the age of 15.

A courtier was dispatched immediately for London to break the news to the King. On 4th April Henry VII’s confessor was sent to wake up the King and inform him of the death of his son and heir. Henry broke down in tears and his wife was called upon to comfort him. Elizabeth of York informed the King that they were still young and could have more children and they also had Prince Henry. After leaving the King Elizabeth walked back to her chamber but on the way collapsed on the ground and was inconsolable. Her ladies in waiting called for the King who came and comforted her.

Arthur’s body remained in Ludlow but on 8th April in London a procession took place for Arthur’s soul and at St Paul’s in the afternoon a dirige (service for the dead) was sung. Meanwhile in Ludlow Arthur’s body was disembowelled, embalmed and wrapped in a wax cloth before being placed in a coffin. Arthur was laid to rest in his chambers where his people came to pay their respects. At some point his heart was buried in Ludlow Church.

Henry lay in state within his chambers at Ludlow until 23rd April while his lavish funeral was planned. Worcester Cathedral was chosen due to it being the closest Cathedral to Ludlow that was not affected by the sweating sickness. On the 23rd Arthur’s body was sprinkled with holy water and was transferred to Ludlow church. His body was covered by a canopy as it travelled the short distance. A large procession accompanied the cortege including many gentlemen of Arthur and Katherine’s court. Arthur’s body was placed in a hearse and remained guarded in Ludlow castle overnight. The following day the traditional three masses were held. They were for Our Lady, of the Trinity and of the Requiem. Following these events dinner was held at Ludlow Castle.

On 25th April one final requiem mass was held in Ludlow Church before Arthur left Ludlow to begin his final journey. Due to the long journey ahead a special wagon was commissioned that was covered in black fabric and drawn by six black horses. The cortège travelled slowly through the countryside accompanied by Arthur’s gentlemen, bishops, the prince’s banner bearer and the officers of arms. Also following the cortège was 120 torch bearers. At the end of the first day the procession arrived at Tickenhall Manor, Arthur’s home in Bewdley. Arthur’s body was laid to rest overnight in his chapel.

After another requiem mass on the morning of 26th April the cortège set off for the final part of the journey towards Worcester. Huge crowds turned out to greet the cortège. Arthur’s body was placed in the Cathedral choir.

Arthur’s funeral on 27th April was a magnificent affair and no expense was spared. A mass of requiem was offered. The Earl of Surrey acted as the chief mourner and alongside the officers of arms offered up Arthur’s heraldic accomplishments which were his coat of arms, shield, sword and helm. Also an unusual event happened as Arthur was a prince of the realm a knight on horseback rode down the length of the Cathedral to the choir where he dismounted and approached the presiding bishop’s. Finally it was time for Arthur’s burial, prayers were offered to Arthur’s soul and finally the prince’s servants and gentlemen ushers broke their staffs over their heads and cast them into the grave. This signalled the end of their service to Arthur now they have committed him to the ground.

Henry VII spared no expense with Arthur’s funeral with it costing £892. Katherine of Aragon, King Henry VII nor Elizabeth of York was present at Arthur’s funeral. Katherine was still recovering from her illness and the King and Queen did not like to be around death and mortality, also it was believed that Worcester was suffering from the plague.

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Two years later a chantry was placed above where Arthur was buried. However, the chantry remained incomplete many shields remained uncut. On the outside of the chantry are 19 panels that contain a random combination of the following; the ostrich feather (Arthur badge as prince of Wales), a single rose, the rose en soleil and eagle and featherlock (Yorkist badges) the Beaufort portcullis (now a symbol of parliament), the fleur-de-lis (for Arthur’s great grandmother Katherine de Valois), the pomegranate of Granada (for Katherine of Aragon) and finally arrows in clusters (for Katherine’s father). It is believed these were added at a later date as the stone is different to the rest of the area and the workmanship appears to be poorer than the rest of the chantry.

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Arthur’s tomb itself within the chantry is a simple panelled Purbeck that has no effigy or brass. Around the lid is an inscription that says;

Here lyeth buryed Prince Arthure the first begotten son of the right renowned kinge henry the seventhe, which Noble Prynce departed oute of this transitory lyfe in the Castle of Ludlowe in the seventeenth yere of his fathers raygne, and in the yere of oure Lord God on thousand five hundred and two.”

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Arthur’s tomb is very different to the rest of the chantry, which makes some historians believe it was commissioned years after Arthur’s death. It is of a similar design to King John’s tomb which was commissioned in the 1520’s. The inside of Arthur’s chantry was also damaged during one of the attempts to dissolve the monasteries.

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If you look carefully at the top of Arthur’s chantry you will see that the tips of the turrets have been damaged and removed. Upon talking to a tour guide at Worcester Cathedral it was believed that either the chantry had been moved at some point or it was made in London to the wrong dimensions and when it was assembled it Worcester it did not fit the designated area.

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Arthur’s chantry is a wonder to see although it does feel a bit neglected as if work was not completed by the time of Henry VII’s death and Henry VIII did not continue the work as he wanted to be the centre of attention especially as he was married to Arthur’s widow, Katherine of Aragon.

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